A dog that believed she could……..…….
Willow came into our lives for my daughters 9th birthday. We didn’t pick her she picked us, she came out with her litter mates and plonked herself at our feet, staring up with those big brown eyes. That was it, this fluffy, big red was coming home.
She was from show lines, not an ounce of running pedigree in her heritage. Willow was the stereotypical husky everyone expected to see in a Disney movie and in time would become the Arctic Quest poster girl, but that’s where anything stereotypical about this dog ended.
Coming from show lines, she should have been more at home in the ring, but Willow would have hated that, she was all about pulling. She wasn’t built like a lean running machine, had a thick coat and heavy bone structure. In fact Pullin and Willow were both not what you’d expect for athletes, but Willow had this heart and drive in harness that even the best dogs would envy. She was also as competitive as Vickie and they only needed to see a team ahead on the trail and both would give their all to try and catch them. This fluffy, show dog started our racing journey and gave Vic her first race, her first victory, her first International race and even won a Bronze medal for Russ at the Thetford Europeans. We would keep telling Willow to ‘just do your best’ and ‘not to expect anything,’ but she would toss her head, fix her eyes down the trail and time and time again she would surprise everyone.
At races Willow would trot around with an air of superiority, looking at other dogs like ‘you’re not as fluffy as me,’ she really did think she was a cut above the rest. An attitude she kept at home as well. She liked to try and boss the others around by being vocal and showing off, but we all kinda new it was just Willow being Willlow, our grumbling, gobby bear. She was very much all mouth and no trousers, but if you didn’t know her ways she could put the fear of God into you and she loved wielding that power!
She didn’t like kids apart from Bryony, who she loved and respected. At schools as soon as the kids saw her that would elicit an appreciative ‘wow,’ but Willow was very much all look and no touch. She didn’t like to be crowded or people in her space, but always wanted attention if other dogs were getting fuss and she wasn’t. I always stood near her in public and would rub the tip of her ear if I thought she was getting stressed, she didn’t complain so think she liked it. She was a brilliant learning tool for kids, who had to greet her on her terms only. I would demonstrate poor doggy etiquette, by shoving my face in hers and Willow as if she’d read the script would reply with a loud, growl and snarl. I never felt scared, we were playing our roles and she played her part with vigour.
Willow did love to be centre stage and could command an audience, from afar. She could do the ‘I love you’ husky thing if she felt like, but would often leave Vic hanging in front of a large crowd and just sit there looking stunning. She didn’t like many people and you had to earn her respect, if you ran her well she might allow you a quick touch of her amazing coat, but if she sensed fear she would exploit that to the fullest. She also didn’t care who she offended by turning her back on them and famously, ignored Peter Jones on Dragons Den when he went to pet her. She gave him her ‘don’t care how many millions you’ve got in the bank’ look and walked away, leaving his outstretched hand stranded. No wonder we didn’t get an investment!
She also had this was of unnerving people by really staring at them. An AQ guest once said she felt as if ‘Willow was peering into her soul,’ tad dramatic, but I think she would size people up with her fixed glare and it became a game she would play, who would blink or turn away first, it was always the human, Willow didn’t do losing!
If you were one of Willow’s trusted few, then she did really love you and we all felt she would do anything for us. Maybe it was her massive confidence and ego in harness, but strangely she became a brilliant teacher for those dogs that were goofy, nervous or weaker when running. Was it she just didn’t tolerate messing or expected all dogs to work as hard as she did? Whatever she could make dogs run that we couldn’t and actually seemed to understand and be really nice to those minor league dogs. This was totally out of character for her, as she didn’t tolerate lesser beings, but shows the complexity of the bear. She became kennel mates with two in particular Koda and Tamzin and they grew in confidence feeding off Willows ego.
She didn’t care where she ran lead or wheel, on a team or solo on the scooter, as long as she was out the trails with the wind in her fur, she was happiest. Willow was one of the Arctic Quest original 4 and a few weeks ago was running regularly with the others. She was the only husky that ran with the Alaskans and believed she could keep up with them. We would use the brakes to make sure it wasn’t too fast, but in her head it was all her and she believed she was as fast as anyone else, no matter how she was built.
Two weeks ago Willow was rushed to the vets with Pyometra and a massive infection. Being the bear and strong as an ox, she pulled through and recovered well. She’d been spoilt rotten in the house, but cone off and whilst not 100% she was looking better and knowing she’d prefer to be back with her kennel mates that’s where she went, she curled up with them, went to sleep and never woke. It was peaceful, but there seems no reason for her to leave us yet. I guess it’s typical Willow doing things her way and surprising us right to the end.
Willow would not have wanted to grow really old or slow down and she would never have accepted that she couldn’t keep up with the youngsters. Retirement would not have been in her vocab, so maybe for a dog like her going quickly and suddenly was the right way.
This sums up how the bear lived her life…..